In a Beverly Hills back room filled with the personal possessions of a lifetime of fame as a Beatle and solo artist, Ringo Starr happily posed for pictures with guests on Tuesday. It was the opening-night party celebrating this week's auction of selected items from Starr's life and career to benefit his Lotus Foundation charity.
More than 800 items from his music career and the life he shares with wife Barbara Bach will be sold by Julien's Auctions, from star-shaped jewelry and vintage drum kits to his suit from A Hard Day's Night and mementos from decades of world travel. As guests took snapshots, Starr picked up a wooden Balinese statue and cradled it like he planned to take it back home.
"They'll never notice," he said with a laugh, then turned toward a mod tweed jacket hanging nearby and stroked his fingers on the lapel. "I'll try this on."
Starr will be one of thousands monitoring the auction online and on site at Julien's, with special attention paid to instruments used on Beatles and Starr solo records, including the 1964 Rickenbacker electric guitar given to him by John Lennon. A pair of rings he wore at every live Beatles gig he ever played are being sold. And in a glass case at the auction house was another precious item: the drummer's original mono U.K. edition of the White Album, stamped with a serial number A0000001.
Laura Woolley, who spent three months appraising the collection for the auction house, fully expects the vintage disc to break existing records for a vinyl album. "If it goes to $200,000, that should break the record, and I have a feeling it's going to go higher than that," she said. "That's the one that you want."
While Starr had the album locked in a bank vault for 35 years, prior to that it was simply a copy he had at home. It has spent some quality time on a turntable.
"We used to play the vinyl in those days," Starr told Rolling Stone. "We didn't think, 'We'll keep it for 50 years and it will be in pristine condition.' Whoever gets it, it will have my fingerprints on it."
The auction is the latest chapter in a season of looking back that began for Starr with "Ringo: Peace & Love," a 2013 exhibition on his life at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. It started a process of cataloguing the Beatle's personal artifacts that had been in storage for decades, and also led to the discovery of his photographs and film negatives that materialized this fall as the book Photograph.
"Some of the stuff, it's a real surprise that we still had it because it's been in storage for so long," he said. "I don't mind getting rid of a lot of stuff and it goes to good use. That's the deal."
"We used to play the vinyl in those days. We didn't think, 'We'll keep it for 50 years and it will be in pristine condition.'"
His Lotus Foundation raises funds aimed at "advancing social welfare" for a variety of causes including child and family issues, homelessness and substance abuse.
For the auction, Starr and Bach went through the music memorabilia, clothing, artwork and furnishings in storage and at their homes in London, Beverly Hills and Monaco. They sometimes struggled with what property to release for auction.
"Very difficult — we had to look at it all," Starr said. "We had to say, 'That's going, that's going, that's not going, that's going.' ... So we had to make a lot of decisions about the paintings. Some of them are back in storage. Some of them we just couldn't let go of."
Resting on top of a display case was a black feathered Mardi Gras mask he got while in New Orleans to see Dr. John perform. Starr recalled wearing the disguise while riding down on the elevator to his hotel lobby. "The doors open and somebody says, 'Hey, Ringo! What are you doing here?'" he recalled, pausing in surprise at being recognized. "I'm looking like a peacock. We had a good night."
In October, Starr finished his U.S. tour and is now aiming to begin recording a new album in January, working out of a home studio. "I get weird basic tracks — a weird way to work," he said of his recording process. "I call in a writer and we sit there and write something to the fantasy track I've recorded and it works out fine."
At the auction house, Starr stopped by long enough to walk the red carpet and greet friends and collectors. Also in the room was his close friend and brother-in-law, Joe Walsh of the Eagles. Before long, Starr, Walsh and their wives were exiting through a rear door.
On his way out, Starr paused and pointed to lead auctioneer Daniel J. Kruse, who will host the live bidding on some of the most expensive items on Friday and Saturday. Starr said with a smile, "I'll be listening for you."